STENNIS SPACE CENTER, MS (WLOX) - Dozens of frustrated workers are walking the picket line protesting outside of the gates of Stennis Space Center to save their pension plans. The strike started at midnight, and workers say they are in it for the long haul.
The 116 Lockheed Martin employees are members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union. They're striking in shifts; 15 men are on the line at Stennis's south gate and about the same number are staged at the north gate.
At issue are the workers' retirement benefits. Lockheed Martin wants to convert their current pension plans to a 401k retirement plan. The company said the last offer made was its "best and final offer."
"We're going to hold out," worker Tom Wolfe said. "Try to hold out 'til we come to some type of agreement. That agreement is we want our pension, keep our pension."
Wolfe has worked at Stennis for more than 30 years. He and his co-workers are responsible for preparing the test stands for engine tests and for the routine maintenance. They say there are risks associated with 401k plans, and rolling them over, if a new contractor takes over operations at Stennis, could be a nightmare.
"I think there is more risk in the 401k and the market as we see it today; Our pension is much more highly regulated," union president J.C. Felder said. "We understand it's some hard economic times for everybody, but it is for us, as well."
The strike could impact a series of engine tests scheduled for next week. It's a job the workers say they are needed to do.
"We're certified, qualified, experienced employees that know this operation and systems out here. And not just anybody can do what these employees do out here," Felder said.
Lockheed Martin released a statement in response to the strike, saying, "We are disappointed that the IAM members did not ratify the contract and voted to strike. Lockheed Martin offered an outstanding proposal that is fair and equitable for employees. The offer provides competitive pay and comprehensive benefits while maintaining Lockheed Martin's ability to deliver to our customers."
Stennis Space Center leaders issued a statement Friday morning that said they will remain neutral in the dispute and hope for a speedy resolution.